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Power plant construction to be completed next year, university says

According to Howard University officials, the efforts to modernize the steam and power plant, in partnership with ENGIE North America, will be finished next year.

Howard announced a partnership with ENGIE North America in 2021 to design, construct, operate and maintain a new central utility plant providing services for buildings on campus, according to the Dig. (Jacob Hanesworth/The Hilltop)

Howard continues to work through construction on the steam and power plant, nearly one year after its expected completion date. The construction is part of Howard’s Central Campus Master Plan and promises to modernize the building to reduce its carbon footprint and create a more sustainable campus. 

Once finished, the combined heat and power plant (CHP) will use steam and turbines to generate roughly 5.6 megawatts of electricity for the campus, according to a statement emailed to The Hilltop from the university. One megawatt can light up about 1,000 homes, according to The OGM, an online magazine focusing on energy and sustainability.

According to ALChE, a research organization for chemical engineering professionals, combined heat and power (CHP) systems generate electricity or mechanical power and useful heat from a single source of energy.

In an email, Howard’s Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy said that the plant’s construction costs have been impacted by the external market environment, though a “guaranteed maximum price agreement with the general construction vendor” helped to mitigate cost increases. She made note of general increases in raw materials prices. 

The construction has also “not been immune to price increases related to personnel,” Dubroy said.

The university said that the construction project was budgeted at about $70 million and is currently within this budget. The plant will generate about 30 percent of the campus’ current electricity consumption.

The steam plant originally built in 1934, failed in 2018, and since then, the university has been using temporary boilers to produce steam for the campus. After beginning construction in 2021, the new combined heat and power plant is expected to be completed in April 2024.

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“The new CHP is a significant sustainability achievement, will provide a reliable source of heat for campus buildings, and will allow the university to realize substantial savings on its annual electricity costs,” the statement said.

According to a 2021 article by The Dig, Howard announced a 20-year partnership with ENGIE North America, a company “focused on creating efficient and long-term carbon-reducing solutions” and “supporting their customers through renewable and low-carbon energy transition,” to renovate the plant.

The partnership promised to modernize and maintain the steam power plant with the goal of construction to be completed by 2022. It is unclear why there has been a delay in completion.

Throughout this partnership, ENGIE is responsible for designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the new plant as a way to reduce Howard’s carbon footprint, according to the Dig. This modernization of the steam plant aligns with the fourth pillar of  “Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness” within the Howard Forward 2019-2024 strategic plan. 

Initiatives within this pillar included improving the campus’ carbon footprint, sustainability and would be accomplished by reducing energy use and renovating the buildings across campus prioritizing academic and research endeavors. 

According to the master plan, there were nine capital projects that Howard planned to focus on over the course of a decade in order to succeed in the “interdisciplinary academic and research priorities and student life goals,” as stated in the plan. 

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The nine capital projects include the modernization of the power plant in addition to renovating Howard University Hospital and the Medical Office Building. They also plan on implementing an athletic department in Bethune Annex Hall, a center for arts and communication, a student activity center and union known as “Howard University Union,” a STEM center, more apartment-style residences, and a fusion building. 

Ryan Haynes, junior electrical engineering major and Spanish minor, passes by the construction site quite often on his way to classes.

“It just seems like, you know, the university is building up infrastructure,” Haynes said. “Being a student on campus and seeing them building things it’s like ‘oh okay they’re pouring into the resources for the campus and students’ it’s good to see that there is work getting done.” 

Ashton Brown, a sophomore honors economics major, shared the same perspective. “I think it’s a good thing that Howard is trying to advance and keep up with other institutions,” he said. Although he expressed his delight at the renovations, Brown included a word of caution to the university.

“I think it needs to be conscious of the student voice and how the changes should be implemented,” he said. “As long as the student voices and the community voices are included.” 

In addition to the steam and power plant, the university has also installed solar panels for the law school, the administration building, and the service center. It is one of the largest on-site solar projects in Washington, D.C. completed Fall of 2020 as reported by The Dig.

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Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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